The banks of Newfoundland, song

Eddie Butcher, singing in English
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Lyrics

Oh, sure they may bless their happy lot that lies serene on shore
Free from the billows and the winds that round poor seamen roar
For little we knew the hardships that we were obliged to stand
For fourteen days and fourteen nights on the banks of Newfoundland.

2
[Our good ship never couped before on the stormy western waves
But the seas they came down like mountains and they beat her into staves;
She was built of green unseasoned wood and she could not well stand
When the hurricane blew severelie on the banks of Newfoundland.]

3
We were almost starvéd with the cold as we sailed from Quebec
And every now and then we were obliged to walk her deck,
But we were hardy Irishmen and our vessel did well man
And the captain doubled each man’s grog on the banks of Newfoundland.

4
We fasted for three days and nights, provision had run out,
And on the morning of the fourth we cast the lots about;
The lot it fell on the captain’s son and not thinking relief was at hand
We spared his life another day on the banks of Newfoundland.

5
Then on the morning of the fifth he got order to prepare,
We onlie gave him one short hour to offer up a prayer;
But Providence proved kind to us and kept blood from every hand
When an English vessel appeared in sight on the banks of Newfoundland.

6
They took us from our wrecked ship, we were more like ghosts than men,
They fed us and they clothed us and they brought us back again,
Though five of our brave Irishmen said they would swim to land
Although they were one hundred miles on the banks of Newfoundland.

7
The number of our passengers was four hundred and thirty-two,
There were none of them of passengers could tell the siege but two;
Their parents may shed tears for them that’s on their native strand
While mountains of waves rolls o’er their graves on the banks of Newfoundland.

Notes

‘I saw more ice on the banks of Newfoundland, or rather the Northren coasts, nor if I had lived in Ireland to the age of Methusalem and for size we had it from the smallest piece to the largest hill in Knockaduff. You may think our state was miserable when the captain was seen droping teers. The captain and mate went up to the masthead and found us inclosed in every side. But we had reason to bless God for his mercys unto us. The sea was very calm. We had as good a captain as ever sailed the sea; he was never seen intoxicated. The Symmetry is a fine brig, only she sprung a lake and had to be pumped day and night from the 6th of May untill we landed in Quebec . . .’ – John Anderson to his parents in Co. Derry, Quebec 1832, facsimile in Crawford p. 49.

The title ‘Banks of Newfoundland’ is common to a number of songs including an English one which has been an especial favourite in America (Laws K25). American versions of Eddie’s song have also been found, but two North of England broadsides are our only evidence of it in Britain. The theme ‘Rescue averts the eating of a shipmate’ suits balladry well and recurs in Eddie’s ‘It is now for New England’ (see p. 13). In other versions, two more verses omitted here justify the castaways’ behaviour by a fuller description of hardships which incite them to folly:

Some jumped in earnest in the seas and said they’d swim to land;
But alas, we were one hundred leagues from the shores of Newfoundland (D)

In Eddie’s version these lines occur at the moment of rescue, so that folly gives way to exhibitionism.